Peace in Persecution (July 8, 2018)
Peace in Persecution
2 Timothy 3:10-4:5
The bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird symbolizes the strength and freedom of America. But bald eagles don’t start out life so strong and free. And they definitely don’t look very majestic. More like white balls of fluff with a gaping mouth wide open. Because of their helpless state, baby eaglets spend all of their time high up in a tree or on a rock face, safe in their nests. As eaglets, their lives are pretty easy. Their mother brings them food. They are safe from predators. And the lining of their nest is nice and soft with feathers and fur. But they can’t stay there forever. It’s time for them to grow up. The problem is that, with such a comfortable nest, they don’t want to grow up and leave the nest. They want to remain children in their soft and easy little world.
And so, the mother eagle does what she always does. She stirs up the nest. She uses her powerful talons to pull out all the softness, exposing all the sharp branches, thorns and rocks that lie underneath. She makes the nest uncomfortable. In this way she gets her children to stop thinking like children. They grow up and are prepared to go away from the nest. Does life ever feel like that? Does it ever feel like God is stirring up your life as comforts are ruffled, hard rocks exposed, and you feel the sharp prick of a stick that juts out too far?
Paul’s life definitely felt like that from time to time. He didn’t just feel the sharp prick of a stick, he was beaten with rods three times (2 Cor 11:25). He didn’t just feel the cold, jagged surface of a rockface, he was pelted with stones until they thought he was dead (2 Cor 11:25). And there was much more. He had been shipwrecked multiple times while trying to spread the gospel. He has known hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. But it wasn’t just physical pains he endured either. “[Timothy], you know all about my persecutions and sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured” (2 Tim 3:10-11). Timothy, you know because your hometown is right in that area. You’ve seen how jealous men hunted me down and made my life and ministry difficult in city after city. You’ve seen the contempt they have for the true gospel and those who share it with others.
Timothy, you’ve seen it happen to me. It will happen to you as well. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). I’m not the only one who is going to be persecuted in this way, Timothy. You will be too. In fact, every one of us, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. What has it been for you? In what ways have people attacked you because of the gospel? Do you feel the stone cold attitude of a world that is moving farther and farther away from the truth. In fact, they are not just moving farther from the true gospel but making it generally difficult for those who still cling to the truth. Even if you don’t feel this persecution in a direct way, it weighs heavy on you as you see society plummeting and wonder, when is this going to affect me? Maybe you have been made fun of for believing in a “fairytale” or “myth” as they might call it. And if not made fun of, I’m sure you have been challenged in your beliefs.
But why? Why does God allow this to happen? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to convince people that the Bible is true and God is real if he prevents all harm from those who believe in him and looks out for us in the way that we expect him to? Why? Does it mean that God is not in control of all things? Does it mean that he is unable to shield and protect us, or… do I even dare say it… that he doesn’t really care about our wellbeing?
Our minds would have us think that if God really cared, he would shield us from all of these things. Others might point and laugh at you and me for believing in a God who fails to rescue and protect. Satan whispers in our ears, “Did God really say that this was the kind of life that you have to live? One that comes with difficulty, hardship, and persecution?” And if we’re not careful we start to believe these things. We start to believe that a life worth living is one in which we are free from any kind of discomfort.
But then we look at Paul, who lived a pretty rough life, and amazingly we hear him say, “The Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Tim 3:11). He wasn’t trying to lie to Timothy. Timothy knew about all these things that Paul endured. He knew that Paul was verbally attacked and harassed, beaten on multiple accounts, and even stoned. And you are thinking, God didn’t rescue him from these things! But Paul says, “Yes! He did.” Because were any of these things able to separate him from God? “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us… [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:35, 37, 39).
These persecutions and hardships are part of life. In fact, the hardships that God allows are sometimes even a good part of life. There’s a really interesting experiment which proves this in a different kind of way. The project was called Biosphere 2. A large dome was built in the Arizona desert to create a perfect environment for human, plant, and animal life. The environment was controlled with purified air and water, healthy soil and filtered light. Everything seemed to be going well. Trees grew faster than they grew in the wild. But, once they reached a certain height, they would fall over. That’s because the creators of the biodome overlooked one important factor: wind. Trees actually need the stress caused by wind because it causes their root systems to grow deeper and stronger. In fact, the strongest trees are found in the strongest winds. In the same way baby eaglets need that discomfort of a stirred up nest to build the strength of their wings and encourage them to mature. It’s the same thing that God does for you and me.
“In this world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). Persecution is a part of life. But God uses it to prepare you for life. And he never leaves you empty handed.
The seasoned and weathered Paul encourages young Timothy, “Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of… from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:14-17).
There’s three important things that God does for you through the scriptures to rescue you from all persecution. The first, is that God shows you how he has been there for his people in the past. “Continue in what you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14). In the Bible, you have seen how God carried a persecuted brother named Joseph, the youngest of 12, through slavery, imprisonment, and eventually made him second in command of all Egypt so that he could save his family, his county, and all Egypt from a severe famine. You’ve learned about the promised Messiah, traced his lineage from the promise given to Adam and Eve all the way down to Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, but also Son of God. You’ve learned about how God preserved that promise of the Savior, kept that family line secure, and placed himself into history at exactly the right time. You’ve even seen how God led a man, completely opposed to Christianity, to see the light of the gospel and become one of Christianity’s strongest proponents. You’ve learned how God sees to it that his will is done and his people are brought to faith and protected in that faith!
You have known these things, many of you, since infancy. Having known and believed these things, you have become “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). And that’s what this is all about isn’t it? Life isn’t about having it made. It’s not about having all the creature comforts or greatest honors. It’s not about avoiding confrontation. Those things are all good, but there’s really only one thing that life is all about and that’s becoming wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s all about knowing Jesus, trusting in him as your Savior so that you know that this isn’t all there is to life! Realize that things aren’t going to get better. No, God actually says here that things will go “from bad to worse” (2 Tim 4: ). And so, although a simple faith in Jesus is all it takes for salvation, God prepares you for the challenges you will face by “stirring up the nest” – introducing little discomforts to encourage you to stretch your wings, grow in your faith, and root yourself even stronger in your salvation. When your salvation comes first, when it’s the most important thing in life, then everything else is put into perspective. It won’t be the end of the world if someone challenges you for what you believe. It won’t be depressing to miss out on some of the things that you see others having. And you will have peace despite the persecutions you face, because you know that it’s better to take up your cross in this life to save your soul, than to lose your soul by trying to save your life here on earth (Mt 16:24-25).
God prepares you to meet these challenges of life. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful… so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Don’t imagine that the Bible is just about a lot of dusty old history that doesn’t have any application in your life. Don’t assume that the Bible is all about spiritual stuff which really isn’t down to earth at all. All Scripture is useful! As you go through life and God stirs up the nest so that you begin to feel some of the pressures of life, go to Scripture and be equipped. As your faith is challenged and you are looking for answers, go to Scripture to be equipped. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4: ) And things aren’t going to get better. “Evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13), and God wants you to be prepared. A childlike faith is all you need for salvation, yes, but false teachers are going to try to mislead that childlike faith – lead you to where you don’t want to go, where you will have a truly difficult life. God gives you opportunities to grow in your faith and gives you all the equipment you need in his Word.
A little discomfort from stirring up the nest is good for baby bald eaglets. It encourages them to spread their wings and see what power God has given them. Eventually the discomfort that the mother eagle knows is best helps them become the majestic, soaring, and free creatures we know them to be. Trust God when he stirs up the nest in your life. It can be stressful. It can be uncomfortable. But he knows what’s best. Little by little he’s stretching your faith so that you can see all the more what power God has to rescue. Paul knew that power through his many hardships explaining, “the Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Tim 3:11). Find peace in your persecutions as you also see that “the Lord rescues you from all of them.”